The measure would classify possession of up to an ounce of cannabis –what one law enforcement official described as 56 individual joints – as “a civil violation subject to a fine not to exceed $100.”
In response to opposition from law enforcement agencies, the committee voted to add language in the bill to make it clear that possession of marijuana, regardless of the one-ounce threshold, would still technically be classified as a crime.
The bill is subject to further consideration and amendment by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Some 18 similar measures have been passed in other states and localities on the Mainland.
The bill is based largely on the findings of studies of the effects of marijuana decriminalization. A Connecticut commission that analyzed the issue found that in states where decriminalization was enacted, marijuana use increased at a lesser rate than in states with harsher punishments.
The same study found that cannabis decriminalization had virtually no effect on the choice or frequency of use of alcohol or harder drugs.
A major benefit to decriminalization, the Hawaii bill predicts, would be significant reductions in government expenses for arresting and prosecuting ounce-or-less marijuana cases.